Seriously, MD Anderson Cancer Center?

Dr. Ronald A. DePinho, President of MD Anderson Cancer Center

Today it is my great pleasure to reblog this post from the American neurologist who blogs at Doctor Grumpy in the House. (It is a great blog with humor, honesty, humanity and all kinds of good stuff that does not necessarily begin with H. You should read it.)

This post, originally titled “Things that make me grumpy” is about the money troubles of the iconic MD Anderson Cancer Center. Due to these misfortunes, the Center’s president, Dr. Ronald DePinho, has instituted “austerity measures” because, he says, “For most of fiscal year 2013 our operating expense has exceeded our operating revenue – meaning that we’ve spent more than we’ve made from providing patient care services.”

Read Dr. Grumpy’s post to find out where one and a half million dollars of that revenue went.

Thank you, Dr. Grumpy, for permission to reblog your post.

Times are tough for doctors these days. No one gives a shit, so I’m not elaborating further.

But even big institutions are affected. Take, for example, the venerable MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. This giant of oncology has recently been having financial issues, so much so that its president, Ronald DePinho, sent out this e-mail to employees 2 weeks ago:

“For most of fiscal year 2013 our operating expense has exceeded our operating revenue – meaning that we’ve spent more than we’ve made from providing patient care services.”

He went on to say that because of this shortfall MD Anderson is suspending merit raises and slowing its hiring rate. This is what they call “austerity measures.”

Now, every concerned CEO in America has been saying stuff like this, so why am I singling out Mr. DePinho?


At the same time Mr. DePinho is preaching financial restraint for his cash-strapped institution, he’s used $1.5 million of its capital funds (which come from investment income, donations, and patient revenue) to build a 25,000 square-foot (2,322 square meter) office suite for Dr. Lynda Chin at the institution.

Who just happens to be his wife.

Really. I am not making this up.

Dr. Chin is the scientific director of MD Anderson’s Institute for Applied Cancer Science. How this justifies her having an office suite that is 10 x larger than the average American home is beyond me. According to the institute it’s to “provide an appropriate meeting space with high-level industry decision makers and support a new suite in computational biology.” Translation: By using a lot of syllables we’re hoping you’ll ignore what’s really going on here.

And no, I have no idea what “computational biology” is. Maybe that’s why my entire office is 1,250 square feet, including the john.

According to an itemized expense report (obtained by The Cancer Letter under the Texas Public Information Act) this ginormous office has $28,000 worth of chairs, sofas, and tables. They also spent $210,000 on fancy translucent glass walls, which required them to get a special permit from the University of Texas. By comparison, the Grumpy Neurological Emporium has used furniture (valued at $948 total), and plain old painted drywall.

So, if you donated money in a loved one’s memory to MD Anderson hoping they’ll find a cure for whatever cancer killed grandma, there’s a reasonable chance your hard-earned dollars went to pay for… upscale furniture and fancy glass walls in an office bigger than your house.

I’m going to close with another quote from Mr. DePinho, found in the same e-mail I quoted earlier about the austerity measures MD Anderson will have to take to survive:

“If we don’t make changes now, we potentially will find ourselves in a crisis that will force us to take drastic measures that could hurt our ability to meet our mission… [all will] have to share sacrifices.”

Well, almost all.

Thank you, SMOD!

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27 Responses

  1. Kayleigh says:

    Outrageous! Really just pisses me off…I can’t comprehend how things like this happen…is it that people are so insulated that they lose sight of reality? Is it just plain selfishness, are these people blinded by entitlement?

    I’m so glad you shared this, more people need to know. It’s just utterly shameful 🙁

    • Knot Telling says:

      I know.

      I have no answers, either. But here is yet another case where we need to have our eyes wide open when donating and supporting cancer fundraising.

      • kwangsuh@hotmail.com says:

        Why are those husband and wife team still there? Why are Texan politicians and other senior leaders still supporting people that stills money from you and spend them on themselves and not for curing cancer? Why are you leaders at MD Anderson so stupid and not see this?

    • cherrysandpipes says:

      hi folks. starting this past Wednesday, June 5th, the Houston Chronicle picked up on this MD Anderson monies spent theme. While the editorials are as one would expect as are the comments, the Director Mr. DelPhino and his wife maintain, of course, that they have already sealed several deals over $15 million becuase of the opulence of these offices.

      Also it was found in an email that The Cancer Institutes head said kinda the following. “Don’t listen to these losers. ” Their words not mine.

      So good work and send this to every one you know with cancer or who lives in Houston Tx. Only disclosure can change this.

  2. let me just chime in on the local side. And i do not support this BS that’s for sure. But MD Anderson is one of the leaders in cancer research, testing, you name it.

    The King and Queen bees in industry, even my small Community College i work for, you can tell how hi up you are by the surroundings.

    They do a LOT of good over there folks they really do. The Houston Tx area is very blessed to have the entire Medical Center here.

    But their idea of hiring their own wives and extravagance is for sure out of place.

    • Knot Telling says:

      No question that MD Anderson is a leading cancer center. No question of all. As I said in my post, it’s iconic.

      The idea of spending a million and a half dollars on his wife’s office and then bleating about the need for austerity measures doesn’t go down well with me.

  3. Maxine D says:

    Choking – sounds like hypocrisy of the highest order – and reminds me of the Orson Wells quote “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. So sad in an institution that has contributed in such an awesome way.
    Blessings and prayers

  4. Susan Zager says:

    This is sickening. It’s so disheartening to see such a well respected institution with obvious hypocrisy. Very sad.

  5. Bench D says:

    Before you cite other sources, why don’t you people just go to MD Anderson to check out exactly how big her office is? This has become ridiculous! Do some fact check first please!

    • Knot Telling says:

      Welcome to Telling Knots, Bench and thank you for commenting.

      Fact checking was indeed done under the Texas Public Information Act. The budget is available for anyone to download as a PDF at The Cancer Letter http://www.cancerletter.com/articles/20130524.

      The issue for me is not (only) the size of her office, but that Dr. DePinho is calling for austerity measures while spending an inordinate sum on this office, which just happens to be for his wife. It would have been imprudent in any case; the fact that it’s for his wife creates at least the appearance mismanagement of funds in favor of his own family.

  6. Not even surprised anymore. Health care is just as corrupt a business as any other.

  7. And thanks for introducing Dr. Grumpy, the perfect doctor for a self-professed curmudgeon.

  8. bethgainer says:

    I love this doctor! What gutsy honesty, so rare these days. So sad about MD Anderson. And corruption is everywhere, even where it shouldn’t be.

  9. Scott Merville says:

    Dear Dr. Grumpy:

    If a single office suite at MD Anderson was really larger than a house and many times the size of your office, your grumpiness would be understandable. However, that’s simply not the case for the renovation of 12,000 square feet of office and lab space to accommodate our Department of Genomic Medicine and our Institute for Applied Cancer Science.

    Dr. Lynda Chin’s office is 187 square feet and the cost of her furniture was $20,251. This compares with 160 square feet and $15,000 for the average department chair at MD Anderson. Her suite includes a 121-square-foot meeting room and a 124-sq.-ft. office space for her assistant.

    None of this is out of line for a scientist and leader who both chairs an academic department and serves as scientific director of an institute designed to improve the efficiency and speed of cancer drug development.

    Dr. Chin is one of the world’s leading experts on cancer genomics, a crucial field that is helping us better understand abnormalities that drive tumor survival and growth in order to better treat and prevent cancer. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and serves in leadership roles for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) of the National Institutes of Health and the International Cancer Genome Consortium.

    Out of this $1.5 million renovation project, $547,434 covered furniture and renovations for 9,000 square feet of space for multiple offices and meeting rooms for IACS and the department. The balance of about $900,000 was invested in converting biology labs to chemistry labs by adding fume hoods and modifying mechanical, electrical and plumbing to accommodate that use.

    Planning for this renovation began in the fall of 2011 and the project was completed in 2012, so it’s unrelated to MD Anderson’s current fiscal challenges.

    Many thanks,

    Scott Merville
    External Communications
    The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Scott. I understand what you’re saying, but I think we may need to define some terms in common. After I do some research, I will probably revisit this issue, and you are more than welcome to come back and respond.

  10. Scott Merville says:

    Dear Telling Knots, thanks for the opportunity to comment. I decided to post our note to Dr. Grumpy since you had reposted here. Cheers.

  11. Alexa Cohen says:

    Dear Scott Merville,

    Marie Curie didn’t need such a stylish apartments and furniture to do her job. Now don’t you tell me that she wasn’t a scientist and a leader. Money is to invest in finding a cure for cancer, not to invest in decorating offices.

  12. TiredClinician says:

    The “Institute for Applied Cancer Science” was touted by DePinho himself as a “game-changer” for speeding up drug discovery and development.

    how many successful drugs have DePinho or Chin discovered or developed? ZERO. wow. forget speeding it up, they haven’t done it once?

    so what is/was their closest drug? its from a company Aveo they co-founded (which for the record they neither discovered nor invented, but licensed). the FDA recently shot it down for a number of reasons including not listening to their concerns about safety and trial design. So what happened at Aveo?


    and what did DePinho do 6 days AFTER the company was informed that a new trial would be needed? he went on a national *investment* segment to recommend the company and said the drug had “very effective drug that has a superior safety profile.” did he mention that he/his family had ~600,000 shares of Aveo at the time? nope.

    oh but he apologized later. I guess that makes it all ok. maybe he was sitting on a $7700 couch while he was writing the memo.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Welcome to Telling Knots, Tired Clinician, and thank you very much for commenting. I’m working on another post about Dr. DePinho, but still have some research to complete.

  13. Patricia Samuelson says:

    I have lived in houston since 1964 and watched MD Anderson grow. I always thought this was the place to go if you got cancer. Well, it happened! I got Cancer from what I hear I really needed help. I have triple negative breast cancer so I called MD Anderson and they turned me away because my medicare was eaten up by United Health Care AARP complete.
    When I called United Health Care I asked for a supplement policy to pay the 20% not paid by medicare and they signed me up for a HMO and MD Anderson did not try to comfort me and explain what United had done to me without my consent plus I pay $104.94 out of my SS each month and United wants another $20.90 to them each month. When I called MD Anderson they were rude and not caring and made me feel stupid and not cared about and after reading the story above no wonder they are a money machine and to hell with a life that is worth saving. I’m sick at the treatment I received from MD Anderson it is obvious that they care more about making the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ than saving a life. VERY SAD INDEED.


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